Tuesday, 28 November 2006

My How the Local Government Ombudsman has Changed.

I recently had cause to complain to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) concerning my dealings with my local planning authority and was stunned at how the attitude of that organisation had changed since the last time I contacted them in 1992. The arrogance of the organisation is beyond anything I have ever encountered from "public service". Are they there to serve the public or just to defend the authorities ?

In August 2005 I was advised by my local authority, South Staffordshire Council (South Staffs) that my neighbour had applied for planning permission to extend his house right up to the boundary of mine. I sent a letter to South Staffs objecting to the application on various planning grounds. On following the matter up, I discovered that my letter had been "filed", forgotten about and that the planning application had been decided without the knowledge of my objections. The council informed me that once the application is approved there's nothing anyone could do to amend the decision. I complained to the council, they admitted maladministration and offered £250 compensation for, as they put it, my "time and trouble in bringing the complaint". The council were of the opinion that all of the points raised in my letter of objection had been taken into account by the planning officer, albeit without the knowledge of my letter, and therefore there was no injustice,
I followed the councils own complaints procedure, appearing before a panel (chosen by the council of course). My argument was that, having received my letter of objection, the planning application should have gone before the planning committee and that members may have visited the site and there must therefore be the chance of a different outcome to the application. The panel did not feel able to disagree with the planning officers of the council so decided no injustice had been done and therefore £250 was a reasonable amount. Next stop the LGO - what a waste of time that was. The council's complaints panel was less biased. The LGO decided without any investigation that there was no injustice - the council had admitted maladministration and £250 was the amount they would recommend in such a case. They therefore refused to take up my complaint.
I then drew the LGO's attention to a similar experience I had in 1992 when, living at a different address (same council- South Staffs), my neighbour started building a wall across the rear of my back garden. In this case South Staffs had failed to notify me of the planning application at all. (Am I unlucky to live in the district with the most incompetent planning department or what?) The ombudsman (Commission for Local Administration in England as it was known then) took the time to visit the site on receiving my complaint (which the current department couldn't be bothered to do) and concluded that I had no grounds to object to that planning application. I accepted that (but do not accept it in the 2005 case). However the conclusion of the 1992 case also said that if I had objected, the matter would have been referred to committee, a site meeting may have been made and therefore "there must exist the possibility of a different outcome". They suggested £500 would be a reasonable amount and this was accepted by myself and South Staffs. On pointing this out to the LGO in 2006, I received a 'phone call from them asking why on earth I hadn't referred to this case in previous correspondence. I replied that I thought the current case stood up on it's own without reference to the previous case. I subsequently received a letter from the LGO (Jerry White) to say that the 2 cases are in fact quite different and that they will not enter into any more correspondence. Furthermore if I write again, I will get an acknowledgement of the letter but no response. I wrote again pointing out how very similar the 2 cases are but as promised he has ignored it.
On further investigation, particularly through excellent sites such as www.ombudsmanwatch.org I was disturbed to find that my experience is not unusual. I have written to my MP Sir Patick Cormack but he seems unwilling to get involved. As Jerry White himself said he is answerable to no-one, not even the office of the Deputy Prime Minister who funds his very cosy existence. It was also facinating to learn that the LGO's in England are all ex-local authority heads whereas in Scotland and Wales they are made up of legal professionals. Let's stop kidding ourselves in England that we have a fair means of investigating local government.Why don't we just say that local government is answerable to no-one, disband the LGO thereby cutting out another layer of government and saving the taxpayer the £12,000,000 per year that the LGO in England costs. Come on it's time for a fairer system to investigate local government incompetence.

46 comments:

The Shadow said...

You are right over the last twenty years Local Government Ombudsmen have been slowly increasing the level of injustice a complainant is expected to suffer as a result of maladministration.

Thomas

David S said...

Update - I again wrote to my MP asking him to investigate the LGO, quoting some of the amazing facts and figures from the other web sites and he has agreed to look in to the workings of the LGO. He has warned me that it may take him some time. I think he might be right! I'll say to anyone who has had trouble with the LGO to keep plugging away, keep protesting, keep writing and keep blogging. We have right on our side and will prevail. Will keep you posted.

David S said...

Another Update. My MP Sir Patrick Cormack has sent me an interim response including a letter from Mrs Caroline Spelman MP. Caroline is Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Her letter advises that she has had other complaints recently regarding "unsatisfacory performance by the Ombudsman" (that's political speak - you may have your own terminology!). The letter continues "please be assured the issue is one which my colleague Eric Pickles and I are aware of and are looking at". so folks..please support us,please keep blogging and please write to your MP. I feel we are reaching a critical mass here and we cannot be ignored much longer.....and please sign the petition on the Downing St website.

Kevin said...

I am glad to have seen this. Same situation in my rotten borough of Gateshead. I sent a 40-apge dossier on abuse from the Council who had omitted petitions and ignored letters. They laughed when I told them I was complaining to the LGO: "Go ahead - it will not do you any good!"

I also complained the unwillingness of the LGO staff to Anne Seex. I also quoted facts and figures on the amazing lack of cases decided against the Council - I think one in 10 years. I was told there was no case to answer and not to contact her again.

Through the FOI Act, I got an email where a "Liaision Officer" with the Council advises them to hide information from the public. When I tried to investigate further, I was blocked.

I have no recourse as my Labour MP, Sharon Hodgson, refuses to to get involved as it is a Labour Council.

I wrote to Caroline Spelman too, but she said it had nothing to do with you - maybe as she was too busy being corrupt herself...

It is obvious to me that the LGO and Councils now work hand in hand to keep a status quo where the boat is not rocked.

Please keep me informed of any updates. I will sign the petition.

Thanks

robert said...

robert

i have also been on the wrong end
of some questionable descisions from
south staffs planning department.

i would be interesting to hear from any other victims

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Athena said...

Thankyou for posting your experience.

I have had a very similar experience with my local council (West Berkshire District Council) and the LGO, and now that the elections are over I am about to contact my local MP to ask him if he is willing to take up the matter with the relevant ministerial departments as a general issue. It seems that some Conservative and Liberal MPs whilst in opposition asked some very pertinent questions regarding inability to challenge planning permissions incorrectly granted and more generally on the ineffectiveness (politely stated!) of the LGO. Let us hope that they pursue the matter now that they are in Government.

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